|Subject: Mexico City, Querétaro, and San Miguel de Allende Pt. 2|
Our travel within Mexico from city to city was done by bus. Mexico has one of the best (if not the best) infrastructures for bus travel. With a population of 100 million, the majority of which do not have automobiles, and a railroad which has fallen beyond a state of disrepair the Mexican bus system is the workhorse of the transportation system in the country. In Mexico City there are four major bus stations aligned with the four compass points. By and large one departs from the station in which direction one is traveling. For example we were headed north to Querétaro so we departed from the Terminal de Norte in the northern part of Mexico City, the neighborhood of Tlalnepantla.
A quick word on the use of taxis in Mexico City. It is best not to just hail a cab on the street. When arriving in Mexico City, whether it be at the airport or one of the bus stations, there are ticket stands inside the station where the taxi fare is paid, a ticket issued, and then this ticket is presented to the authorized taxis waiting directly outside the airport or station. While in the city it is best to have your hotel call for a radio dispatched taxi. On the street look for a sitio, a taxi stand where authorized taxis wait for fares. The reason for the caution is because there are an overwhelming number of taxis in Mexico City and in the last decade some robberies have occurred which were associated with taxi drivers. This cautionary advice pertains only to Mexico City the remainder of Mexican cities have taxi fleets which have not experienced these problems.
As a side note to the issue of crime in Mexico City travelers to large cities are always reminded to remain keenly aware of their surroundings at all times so as not to become a victim of street crime. Mexico City is no different than other large cities in this respect. It has, however, over the last decade experienced a rise in street crime which was unprecedented for this city. Although statistics can be fuzzy it is generally agreed that the rate of crime in Mexico City still falls below that of many of the larger U.S. cities; especially as concerns violent crimes. The crime rate in Mexico City has leveled off in the last couple of years. And within the last month the city has initiated a couple of new police units. Within the historic center a new horseback unit has been put into place and elsewhere in the city a new unit equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, nicknamed robocops has gone on duty. Finally, last Saturday in a further effort to reduce crime the former mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani, arrived in Mexico City to begin a year as a consultant to help put in place the same methods he used to lessen crime while he was in office in New York.
Now that I've eased all your fears lets get back to the bus station. On this particular trip we opted not to make reservations for our bus, choosing to leave our options open. Querétaro is the first major city north of Mexico City which results in buses leaving at least every half-hour between the two. In fact, once we arrived at the station and checked two different bus lines we found one that left within ten minutes. We bought our tickets for a first-class bus on the Primera Plus line for $14 each. First class buses have reserved seats (which you pick from a seating chart on the ticket agent's computer), the fare usually includes a snack or meal and beverage, air conditioning, a video (usually a not-to-good movie), and reclining seats which put airline seats to shame. The most comfortable buses I've ever ridden on are in Mexico. To see an example of the buses here is a link to the website of the company whose buses we took on this last trip:
The route from Mexico City to Querétaro rises out of the Valle de México heading north into the altiplano or high plain. These highlands are a couple of hundred miles wide and several hundred miles long flanked on the east and west by the two arms of the Sierra Madre mountains. The elevations on this altiplano are over 6,000 ft. The topography is one of rising uplands and large valleys broken by occasional small mountains. The higher mountains to the east and west are not visible from the highway because of the undulating nature of the terrain. The landscape is mostly bucolic with the small cornfields (milpas) being ubiquitous. Where the land isn't being farmed there is a mix of low grass, cactus, acacia and other low trees. A couple of times along the road I thought how a giraffe grazing on one of the acacia trees wouldn't look out of place. Animal life is confined to farm animals;horses, cattle, goats, chickens, an occasional pig, and, of course, dogs. Oh yes, and that icon of Mexican rural life... the burro. The route runs by small and medium-sized pueblos all construction being block or brick, covered by stucco and painted pastel shades. The predominant building always being the church, always Catholic. The churches usually are the oldest structure in the pueblos and in this part of Mexico often times date back to the 17th century.
The bus station in Querétaro is just south of town, a modern facility comprised of three different terminals. Transfers by cab from the terminal to the historic center cost $3.50 and take a little over five minutes. Leaving the bus terminal we passed the football (soccer) stadium also a modern facility. But, alas, the poor Queretanos haven't had much to cheer about for over a generation. In fact, their local team hasn't even been in the premier league since most locals can remember. I commiserated with the cab driver but told him there is always hope pointing out the success of the California Angels in winning the World Series after a 41 year wait. He sighed and gave me a wistful look; a look I've seen many times in the eyes of Chicago Cubs fans.
During my research for the trip I was stumped in trying to find a hotel at the price I liked in Querétaro. The higher-end properties all had websites and I communicated with several of them by e-mail. But their rates were higher than I was willing to pay. And the mid-price hotels just didn't have adequate information on the web. So, I decided with our early arrival we'd be able to walk around the historic center until we found a property to our liking. For most of our travels we use convertible bags. Luggage that converts into back packs. They come in quite handy for this type of situations. We had no luck around the main plaza so headed off to another. Here we located the tourist information office, conversed with the helpful clerks (and a bicycle-riding policeman/paramedic), were given a few choices in our desired price range and within the surrounding few blocks, then headed off and had a room at the Hotel Meson del Obispado for $67.50 a night.
Querétaro has blocked off quite a few of the city streets in the historic district making them pedestrian only. Our hotel, which had originally been built in the 18th century as the bishop's mansion, fronted one of these andadors. We unpacked for our two-day stay, freshened up and headed out for some lunch, sightseeing, and shopping.
Next part: the city of Querétaro.
John in San Diego.